Demoviction causes young Toronto family to lose their dream rental

When Lindsay Blackwell and her husband were expecting their first child and looking for a place to rent, they were lucky to stumble upon an oversized unit near Yonge Street and Bloor Street. The unit, previously occupied by the super of the building, was actually two combined together, creating an almost 1,000-square-foot living space ideal for their growing family. 

But just months into moving into their new home, Blackwell was informed that she would have to move out — she and the hundreds of other tenants living in the 14-storey rental building, thanks to a demoviction application for the building. 

Demoviction refers to the process of landlords evicting all tenants from a building so that it can be demolished and redeveloped into new apartments or condos. Although the goal of these developments is said to be densification, tenants dealing with demovictions say the process is displacing renters from their affordable units and throwing them into the city’s increasingly unaffordable rental market. 

“We planned this life, and through no fault of our own, it’s being taken away from us,” Blackwell said. “And now we have to fight and it’s exhausting. After the kids go to bed, I find myself up late writing a policy paper for the next community meeting.” 

The application for her building, 88 Isabella St., would tear down the building and replace it with a 62-storey building with 821 units, 82 of which will be rental replacements for the 82 units currently existing. Tenants have the right to return to the building once the development is complete and are provided with financial support to cover the extra costs of paying for market rent. But the compensation — based on outdated rental averages from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) — doesn’t cover what actual rental costs look like in the city today, and doesn’t account for the likelihood that tenants will be priced out of their neighbourhoods. 

Michael Whitehead, a tenant facing demoviction at 25 St. Mary St., currently pays under $2,000 for a two-bedroom apartment. The rent gap payment he’ll be receiving should cover the difference between his current rate and the market rate while he’s displaced from his home for three years.

But according to the CMHC, that market rate for a two-bedroom is $1,940 for purpose-built rentals and $2,862 for condominium apartments. According to the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, the average rent was actually $3,267 in the fourth quarter of 2023 — and the February 2024 rental report from places that number even higher, at $3,330.

“My rent gap payment would cover the cost of me staying at that new apartment not for three years, but for two,” Whitehead says. “So I’d have to pay an additional $30,000 in rent out of pocket to stay in the neighbourhood.” 

The looming threat of being forced to leave the neighbourhood is one that hangs over the heads of many tenants navigating demovictions.

“Our plan is to try to stay in Toronto, but there’s no telling right now if that will be possible,” Blackwell said. 

Megan Kee, who works with advocacy group No Demovictions and is currently facing demoviction from her midtown apartment building, said the process disproportionately affects marginalized groups.

Megan Kee speaks at an International Tenants Day action. @nodemovictions Courtesy @mikalogue/Instagram

“Purpose-built rentals are zoned to build density and are more affordable to buy, making them ideal targets for demovictions,” she said. “It seems unethical because, oftentimes, people who live in purpose-built buildings tend to be lower income, newcomers, people living on disability,” Kee said.  

The Ford government’s decision to remove rent control for buildings built or occupied after Nov. 15, 2018, has also made demovictions a more lucrative option for developers, who can turn rent-controlled buildings into condos triple the size with units that won’t be restricted by the provincial yearly rent increase limit of around two per cent.

“And there’s nothing that stops them from doing this,” Kee said.

Nothing, of course, except for the City of Toronto denying a developer’s application — but since coming into power, the Ford government has implemented legislation to restrict the City’s ability to deny demovictions. 

Bill 23, passed in 2022, gave the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing the ability to impose limits on the powers of the City to prohibit and regulate the demolition and conversion of residential rental properties. It also limited municipalities to require affordability for no more than 5 per cent of the units in a housing development, and changed the definition of affordable to mean 80 per cent Average Market Rent. The CMHC, by comparison, defines housing as affordable if it costs less than 30 per cent of a household’s before-tax income. 

And Bill 97, passed in June 2023, gave the minister the ability to craft new regulations for municipal rental replacement bylaws, including potentially eroding policies around compensation for tenants. 

The new legislation has left tenants unsure where to turn when a demoviction notice is slipped under their door. 

“If you had a bunch of single-family homes and the government could say, ‘Go find somewhere else to live,’ and they weren’t handsomely compensated for the land that their houses are on, there would be incredible uproar,” Kee said. “But tenants really are treated as second-class citizens.”

Blackwell said her building has negotiated a tentative agreement regarding the demoviction, but her family has yet to find another place they can afford. 

“I don’t know that there’s anywhere for us to go,” she said. “It’s kind of like we’re building the plane while we’re flying it.”

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO